Building Strong Brands: The Inside Scoop on Branding in the Real World
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Marketing Aug 15, 2018

Building Strong Brands: The Inside Scoop on Branding in the Real World

Tim Calkins’s blog draws lessons from brand missteps and triumphs.

A clerk scans brand trademarks.

Morgan Ramberg

Based on insights from

Timothy Calkins

For Kellogg’s Tim Calkins, there’s plenty to learn from brands that make smart decisions—like Geico’s commitment to its memorable tagline: “15 minutes can save you 15 percent or more on car insurance.”

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There’s probably even more to learn from the brands that mess up.

From United Airlines forcibly removing a passenger from an overbooked flight to Sea World’s long, slow trickle of negative publicity, Calkins’s much-lauded blog Building Strong Brands is the place to go for insightful takes on brands in the news.

“I hope my blog encourages people to think a bit more deeply about brands, marketing, and communication more broadly,” says Calkins, a clinical professor of marketing at Kellogg.

If you are unfamiliar with his blog, here’s a preview of what you’ve been missing.

A “Pay Your Age” Fiasco

By all accounts, Build-A-Bear’s recent “Pay Your Age Day” promotion was an utter disaster. Crowded stores, long lines, and “safety concerns” forced the stuffed-animal retailer to shut down what was intended to be an all-day event by 11 a.m.

Clearly, the day marked a low point for the retailer. After all, no company wants to be associated with crying children. But as Calkins wrote in a recent post, Build-A-Bear’s brand may experience a less obvious—and potentially more insidious—hit for quite some time.

By offering its products at $3 or $5—if even for a day—the company may have set the expectation that this is all that its product should cost. “Pricing is complicated,” writes Calkins, “especially for items that aren’t easy to compare. What is the right price for a home robot? I have no idea. How about a flying personal drone that can get you to your work? Not a clue.”

So consumers use what a product does cost as a reference. “For many people, the correct price for an iTunes song is 99 cents, only because that’s where Apple started,” Calkins explains. Now that some people have seen a stuffed narwhal or T-Rex go for a handful of dollars, their willingness to pay could be influenced “for many years to come.”

Freedom for All

In another recent post, Calkins explains why he thinks Budweiser’s creatively named new Freedom Reserve Red Lager—“inspired by a recipe that George Washington wrote in his journal in 1757”—is a good idea, though unlikely to be a blockbuster.

Fraction Confusion

Or check out this post on Fifth Third Bank’s acquisition of MB Financial Bank. “The move,” writes Calkins, “gives Cincinnati-based Fifth Third an opportunity to do something it should have done a long time ago—drop its ridiculous brand name.”

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